One of the first things you learn in politics is to never repeat the charges that your opponent makes about you. It’s counter-intuitive for most people, but after you’ve been in the business for awhile, you learn that if you defend yourself by explaining what your opponents are saying — and why they’re wrong — you end up reinforcing what the opponents are saying, even if they’re wrong.
Because of that, I’m shocked to see Barack Obama’s re-election campaign falling into one of the worst traps I’ve ever seen. The campaign has set up a website that it calls “AttackWatch.com.”
If you set up a site that talks about the lies your enemy is telling about you, all you’re doing is giving them — and their lies — publicity. I know it appeals to the rational side of the brain to respond, but I guarantee that it doesn’t work 98 times out of 100.
If your opponent is attacking you, the way to respond is to attack back, putting the opponent on the defensive. But if you’re a sitting U.S. president, you don’t do anything except sell yourself — without even talking about your opponents.
My point here isn’t to give advice to Obama. He can afford much higher-priced advice than I am. It’s simply to point out that people in the Obama camp are scared. I assume they’re looking at poll numbers and starting to get worried that he might be a one-term president.
I’m sure that the new AttackWatch site will be popular among Obama supporters. The people who love you are always happy with you go on the offensive to “set the record straight,” because they honestly believe it works. (Everyone has a cognitive bias for assuming that explaining things from his point of view will make others suddenly see the light.) But all it’s really going to do, in my opinion, is bring more attention to the charges that are being made. It’s a very bad idea.
The fact that Obama’s advisors are scared enough to do something such as this would give me hope if there were anybody on the Republican side who I thought would do a better job. I do think a Republican has a decent shot at winning next year, but I don’t have any hope that anyone with the right ideas is going to take Obama’s place.
The U.S. presidency is an odd case of musical chairs right now. No matter who’s sitting there when the collapse happens, that person isn’t going to be the one to blame alone. It’s been a bi-partisan mess for many decades. They all have reason to be scared about how history is going to view them.